Amazon's path to TV success takes cues from old school Hollywood

Fri Jan 9, 2015 8:24pm EST
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By Deepa Seetharaman

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon prides itself on being a company that breaks the rules, but its recent success in Hollywood also reflects an embrace of a more traditional, old-fashioned script.

The largest U.S. online retailer, which has spent heavily on original programming and boosted the marketing for its shows, is up for two Golden Globe Awards this Sunday. Its Amazon Studios division, launched in 2010 with skepticism, is now starting to enjoy critical acclaim.

The plan is raising its profile in Hollywood and, critically, among would-be members of its $99-a-year Prime program, which comes with two-day shipping on items sold on Amazon, streaming video and other perks.

Also, like big studios in Hollywood, Amazon has courted big-name screenwriters and producers, such as Jill Soloway, a writer and co-executive producer on HBO's "Six Feet Under." She also is the creator of "Transparent", the Golden Globe television series nominee starring Jeffrey Tambor as a divorced parent who comes out as transgender to his three adult children.

Amazon Studios, born as a rebel, promised to use its data-mining skills to birth mini-screen blockbusters, eschewing the longheld practices of Hollywood creative types.

But its shows struggled to find an audience early on. Few consumers knew the largest U.S. online retailer, best known for low prices and fast shipping, was in the TV business unlike Netflix, which promoted its shows like "House of Cards" heavily.

Since then, Amazon's marketing budget for original shows has expanded. In the fourth quarter, Amazon began promoting two of its original shows - "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle" - with television ads and billboards, the more traditional marketing tools that it previously skipped.

The changes do not amount to a wholesale shift in strategy for a company that relies heavily on mining customer data to inform its development team of potential television hits or misses. But they illustrate how Amazon is refining its approach to original scripted content, which is increasingly important to attracting new members to its Prime membership program.   Continued...